TUCSON — Almost a year to the day that Notre Dame Prep pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the 2011 playoffs, the Saints made another trip to face Salpointe Catholic in a first round Division II contest.
There was no repeat stunner Friday night, as the Saints were overwhelmed 45-9 by top-seeded Salpointe.
“This is the result we needed to close that chapter in our book,” Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said, referring to last year's 33-14 loss. “That game left a bad taste in our mouths.”
Notre Dame backed into the postseason at 5-5 despite losing to Horizon in its regular season finale, but the Saints seemed committed to putting their best effort early. A gameplan heavy on stifling Salpointe junior wideout Cameron Denson paid dividends three minutes into the game when Denson fumbled and Maurice White scooped up the loose ball to put the Saints inside the Lancer 30.
Notre Dame couldn't move the ball, though, and had to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Grayson Naquin.
It was mostly downhill after that for the 16th-seeded Saints, who allowed scores to the Lancers (11-1) on their next three drives: a 1-yard touchdown run to Johnny Pena, a 20-yard field goal and a 6-yard TD keeper by Salpointe quarterback Andrew Cota.
Cota seemed to have Notre Dame's defensive schemes figured out completely until he was picked off near midfield when Thomas Archer stepped in front of a pass intended for Denson. Three plays later and the Saints were on Salpointe's 11, mostly due to a pinpoint 28-yard pass from Nick Duckworth to Grant Martinez on 3rd-and-5.
Down 17-3 but with a chance to take momentum into halftime, Notre Dame called up a play that had worked for them a lot during the year, and one Denson said he immediately picked up on when the ball was hiked.
“I knew where (Duckworth) was going, I saw the same play on film,” said Denson, who jumped in front of his man and turned on the afterburners to return the interception 99 yards for the score and a 24-3 lead.
What followed can only be described as mindboggling. The ensuing kickoff landed far short of the end zone, but no Saints player picked it up. It rolled to the 1-yard-line, at which time recent varsity addition Scooter Bankofier got his hands on it, only to fumble it into the end zone, where the Lancers recovered it to make it 31-3.
Fourteen points, all on defense and special teams, in seven seconds. All in the final minute of the first half.
“The end of the half just got away from us,” Notre Dame coach Gary Gregory said. “It just got away from us.”
Notre Dame was able to generate a little more offense in the second half, though never at the level it had during points of the regular season. A lot of that had to do with Salpointe's containment of top receiving threat Martinez, who entered the game with 42 catches and nine TDS, but had just the one reception on the night.
“(The Lancers) were keeping someone over the top of him and someone underneath, and they also did a good job of bringing pressure at the same time,” said Duckworth, who was just 12 of 26 for 117 yards. “Grant is one of our best players, you take him out of the game it hurts us.”
Tucson Salpointe Catholic 45, Notre Dame Prep 9
NDP 3 0 0 6 - 9
SAL 7 24 7 7 - 45
NDP — Grayson Naquin 43 FG
SAL — Johnny Pena 1 run (Luke Bakewell kick)
SAL — Bakewell 20 FG
SAL — Andrew Cota 6 run (Bakewell kick)
SAL — Cameron Denson 99 interception return (Bakewell kick)
SAL — fumble recovery in end zone (Bakewell kick)
SAL — Cota 2 run (Bakewell kick)
SAL — Donovan Olumba 10 pass from Cota (Bakewell kick)
NDP — Nick Duckworth 1 run (kick blocked)
Rushing — NDP: Jordan Schlueter 8-30, Michael Cole 7-20, Phil Caniglia 3-10, Nick Duckworth 2-(-1). SAL: Johnny Pena 19-64, Andrew Cota 15-58, Brogan Kemmerly 1-18, Carlos Gonzales 3-2, Cameron Denson 1-1, Jake Casteel 1-0.
Passing — NDP: Duckworth 12-26-1-117, Schlueter 0-1-1-0. SAL: Cota 14-20-1-177.
Receiving — NDP: Bailey Jones 9-80, Grant Martinez 1-28, Maurice White 1-5, Sean O'Brien 1-4. SAL: Denson 7-82, Kemmerly 3-42, Robert Wilson 1-14, Pena 1-11, Donovan Olumba 1-10, Ryan McDaniel 1-8.